Monday, January 24, 2011

Best of 2010 Singles: #11 Sidechains, "Dr. Funk"

Re-edit of the year: the Bar-Kays' 1979 funk hit (#14 R&B) "Shine," chopped up and sped up to almost double-time. Not embed-able, unfortunately. But a dancefloor monster.

As a bonus, here's the original Bar-Kays track:

Best of 2010 Singles: #12 Alicia Keys, "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart"

Hands down, the best Prince single he hasn't recorded in the past - hmmm, 15 years? Not just those "Beautiful Ones" synth drums, either - Alicia wrote herself a great set of Prince lyrics too. I'm amazed he hasn't covered it yet. Also: the best single Keys herself has ever released, and one I'm surprised she still has in her at this late lazy-Grammy-bait date.

Best of 2010 Singles: #13 Gorillaz, "Stylo (Alex Metric Remix)"

Metric - that's Alex Metric, not that shitty indie band - had a sensational year, with his rework of Gorillaz' lead single from Plastic Beach one of the highlights. He loaded it up with "pew pew"s and ramped it up with a ridiculously propulsive beat, along with a bassline which sounds like the cousin of Moroder's for "I Feel Love". Best bit: at 1:35, when the horn riffs vault in along with a slice-n-dice of Bobby Womack's guest vocal. Shoulda been a SMASH.

Best of 2010 Singles: #14 Mike Simonetti, "Japan (Torino Fog Version)"

A beautifully re-edited piece of work, no idea what it originally was - though it sounds like, possibly, something jazz-funk-ish from the early '80s. In this version it's vaguely Asian-sounding (ergo its title, I think), totally keyboard reliant, and stunningly gorgeous. No link to the track, unfortunately, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Best of 2010 Singles: #15 Rick Ross f/Ne-Yo, "Super High"

No one is making slick, commercial hip-hop that's still got cred with as much ease these days as Rick Ross. He's a fairly flawless rapper working with best producers and the best singers dying to sing his hooks - like, in this case, Ne-Yo lacing the track something lovely. Think about this: this gleaming, buffed-to-a-shine cut features a prominent sample from N.W.A.'s "Gangsta Gangsta" - and it's Ice Cube asking "What the fuck are they yellin'?" That Ross can so easily cross the two sides of street and commercial means that Diddy's right to pair with him - cuz at this point, no one's got that B.I.G. mojo the way he does.

Best of 2010 Singles: #16 LCD Soundsystem, "Drunk Girls"

Part "White Light/White Heat," part Suicide, part Talking Heads (of course), but all James Murphy and co. "Drunk girls wait an hour to pee" is but one of the bon mots contained in this four minute slab of new wavey pop perfection, from one of the year's best albums. I keep waiting for LCD to flub, and they keep not doing it. Also: 2010's best video, hands down.

Best of 2010 Singles: #17 Melanie Fiona, "It Kills Me"

"It Kills Me" is a gorgeous throwback ballad, big as they come, but not in a Whitney-cum-Deborah-Cox (speaking of Canadian R&B divas) way; this is from the Gladys Knight school. Surprisingly, it spent 9 weeks atop the US R&B chart this past summer, and earned every one of 'em. With the right material (more of this, please), Fiona could have a career. Otherwise, well, remember Deborah Cox?

Best of 2010 Singles: #18 Amerie f/Fabolous, "More Than Love"

Amerie, apparently, is destined to be the greatest R&B singer since 2000 who you've never heard of. She consistently makes good-to-great R&B records that seem to get mostly-ignored, even though they're totally commercially viable - and quality. Case in point, this superb collabo with Fabo (sorry), as always better on other people's records than his own (he has one of the lyrics of the year in "And trust me, I don't even trust me"), while Amerie sings her butt off, showcasing her ridiculously strong, tuneful voice. At the very least she should've had the level of success of, say, Ashanti, though really she deserves even better. Solange would kill for a cut like this.

Best of 2010 Singles: #19 Hurts, "Wonderful Life (Arthur Baker Remix)"

Baker - who is still an absolute genius, in case you were wondering - remixes a fey Brit duo's single into the finest freestyle record of the past 15 years. Kind of awe-inspiring, actually.

Best of 2010 Singles: #20 Shakira, "Did It Again"

Shakira is weird. Between her voice, her fascinatingly ESL singing, and her oft-bizarre lyrics (which she generally pens herself), to my ears she's like the South American Bjork, only on a much broader global-popstar-scale. The second single from 2009's She Wolf (an incredibly underrated album), "Did It Again" was produced by the Neptunes and is on their future-shit electro-pop tip; the US version even features what may be the first recorded instance of a non-annoying rap by Kid Cudi. This is what pop radio should be sounding like right now, not all that Katy Perry and Ke$ha bullshit.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Best of 2010 Singles: #21 Justin Faust, "Witty"

An utter dancefloor KILLER, with arpeggiated keyboards riding synth whooshes all night long.

Best of 2010 Singles: #22 Usher, "There Goes My Baby"

I'll tell you that Usher's chasing that pop dollar led to him making some very substandard records in 2010, that "DJ Got Us Falling In Love" abomination foremost among them (and "OMG," while catchy, is still not very good). Fortunately, he didn't forget the audience that got him where he is - i.e., R&B - and proved that his ballads are as lovely as ever as he rode "There Goes My Baby" to the top of the R&B Singles chart. It's tracks like this that make Raymond V Raymond a much better album than it has any right to be, trust me. Few stars' ballads ooze pure personality the way Usher's do, either.

Best of 2010 Singles: #23 Jay-Z f/Swizz Beats, "On to the Next One"

2010 may have been the year when Jigga became the massive pop star we always thought he'd be, but "On to the Next One" (and those guest verses for Kanye) reminded us that the man is still, and will forever be, hip-hop. Swizz Beats flips the formula of "A Milli" in fine fashion and opens up the track for Jay-Z to just do his damn thing. Which he does, with aplomb.

Best of 2010 Singles: #24 Trey Songz f/Fabolous, "Say Aah"

a/k/a "Son of 'Blame It,'" and I mean that as a compliment, even if Songz does utter the line "I'ma beat ya body like a congo," I kid you not. It's all about getting wasted and hooking up in the club - seems like each year there's one good song with that subject matter (and about 100 bad ones). Besides, the "congo" line is ultimately mitigated by Fabo's fine line "I make you say 'aah' just like I'm your doctor/All I prescribe is cranberry and vodka." The beat is perfect, and perfectly trashy too, which combined with its subject matter makes for one tasty cocktail. (I had to!)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Best of 2010 Singles: #25 R. Kelly, "Just Like That"

Go ahead and call it a comeback, cuz R.'s Love Letter is not only his best full-length in at least a decade, it's one of 2010's best albums. This is what it sounds like when Kelly harnesses his talents and sets phasers to "stun": R&B that's delicious and (mostly) classy (really!) without ever being boring. Contemporary and classic, simultaneously.

Best of 2010 Singles: #26 Kris Menace, "Maybelline"

This is essentially, and somewhat bizarrely, an 8:20 interpolation of Devo's "That's Good" (from 1982's Oh No! It's Devo), sans vocals. It's kind of a re-edit, as Menace beefed up the drums (they absolutely WHOMP on this take) - well, come to think of it, he beefed up all of it to make it even more dancefloor-friendly. If you don't like loop-y tracks, this probably won't be your cup of joe. But if, like me, you think that Daft Punk's "One More Time" is one of the greatest songs ever, this will probably suit you nicely. (All 3 of the Menace tracks on my chart, BTW, are featured on the fab compilation Work It Baby - 10th Anniversary.)

As a bonus, here's the source material from Devo:

Best of 2010 Singles: #27 Kanye West f/Jay-Z and Swizz Beats, "Power (Remix)"

And from minimalism (see below) to maximalism - he's a many-faceted artist, folks. It wasn't enough to rock a ridiculous King Crimson sample, no; 'Ye had to not only get his buddy for Jay-Z for the "Power" remix, he had to then flip Snap!'s "The Power" for this one. If you needed any proof that Kanye's "G.O.O.D. Fridays" were worth it - wherein he gave away tracks every Friday for 3 months leading up to the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - here's all the proof you should need.

Best of 2010 Singles: #28 Kanye West f/Pusha T, "Runaway"

Sure, it's lyrically interesting, with Kanye offering toasts for the douchebags and assholes (present company included, he means), but it's musically where "Runaway" really grabs me: that single piano key, the drum-pad beatboxing, and not much else. This is how to make minimalism in hip-hop work, and no one, frankly, does it better.

Best of 2010 Singles: #29 Sade, "Soldier of Love"

It's indicative of what a fine year this was for singles that what would've seemed a sure bet to make my top 10 only places at #29. After a decade's absence, Sade returned with this glorious single, based around a militaristic snare tattoo and some chunky guitar stabs - this was not your mother's Sade, certainly. "I'm at the hinterland of my devotion" should've been another tip-off. Probably the darkest Sade single ever by furlongs, this is also superb. Don't you just love it when a beloved artist's return doesn't disappoint? This sure as hell didn't. Ms. Adu's voice, too, has deepened and gotten richer over time.

Best of 2010 Singles: #30 Joe, "Can't Get Over You"

In June 2007, I wrote this about Maze featuring Frankie Beverly:

They have nine gold albums, nine top 10 R&B albums (though their pop peak was #25), and nine top 10 R&B singles, including a pair of number ones—but I’d bet you that 99% of non-black America couldn’t tell you who they are. Much more so than even Freddie Jackson, Maze and their leader, Frankie Beverly, are the biggest R&B act you’ve never heard of. Each year, they sell out the Louisiana Superdome during the Essence Superfest (a three-day series of concerts and seminars directed towards the African-American community), and they haven’t released any new music in well over a decade.

Maze is, in that sense (touring, I mean), akin to the Grateful Dead: they can sell out anywhere, anytime. What makes them so special? Their music’s a gumbo of Philly soul (think Teddy Pendergrass), ‘70s Motown (think Marvin Gaye), and a soupcon of funk (think Isley Brothers), with even a little jazz influence thrown in (think Weather Report)—these guys have some serious chops. The last of the great R&B bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s (c’mon, who’s George Clinton playing with these days, anyway?), they lock into a groove and work it for as long as they want.

At the very tail end of 2009, Maze and Beverly finally got a much-deserved tribute album, featuring the likes of Mary J. Blige and Musiq Soulchild covering one of the most solid catalogs in R&B. The album's lead single was this perfect take on "Can't Get Over You" by Joe, in which he tones down the beggin'-ass-ness in his voice to better match Beverly's gorgeous tone (it helps that he sings in the same register). Simply put, this is grown folks' R&B, and it really couldn't be better.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Best of 2010 Singles: #31 Don Diablo, "Teen Scream Machine (Nightriders Remix)"

"You know that we will never be the same again," the vocalist intones, ad infinitum, while Michael Sembello plays a demo for Giorgio Moroder behind him. Hypnotically, outre-ly '80s, and it sounds fucking great on a dark dancefloor.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

We'll be right back after these messages.

I'll be getting back to the 2010 countdown, in all likelihood, tomorrow (1/2/11). New Year's gets in the way, you know.

In the meantime, please enjoy this.

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